In honor of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month, we would like to share an interview with Dr. Gregory Fabiano, who has been investigating the enhancement of Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for children with ADHD using daily report cards (DRC). The DRC provides a way to provide feedback to students, parents, and teachers on behavioral and social IEP goals on a daily basis. In the interview below, Dr. Fabiano shares how ADHD impacts student outcomes and how linking the DRC to IEP goals can improve social and academic outcomes above and beyond what an IEP alone can do.
What do we already know about how ADHD impacts academic and social outcomes in children in elementary school? How does this motivate your own research?
Like all people, individuals with ADHD have areas of strengths and weaknesses. If you wanted to create a situation where a person with ADHD is more likely to demonstrate weaknesses, you would likely construct a situation like an academic classroom—long periods of time where individuals are asked to complete rote tasks, attend to lectures, and follow strict rules about where they should be, what they can say, and when they can say it. The situation is highly likely to exacerbate challenges with staying on task and being productive. Through our team’s work with so many children with ADHD, we have seen first-hand how hard their caregivers and teachers work to support them and the good they can do when they are successful. That is why we are motivated to develop approaches to help every child with ADHD who may struggle in school.
The DRC has been used with students with ADHD for a while now. What can you tell us of the history of this intervention?
The DRC has been around since the 1960s when it was used by scholars such as Jon Bailey and colleagues at the University at Kansas and then by Dan and Sue O’Leary and their graduate student Bill Pelham at Stony Brook University. Since that time, the DRC has been disseminated to schools. It has the advantage of being practical and easy to understand across caregivers, educators, and the child. Throughout its use over the past 50 years, it has always included the same active ingredients: (1) clearly specified behavioral goals with objective criteria for meeting goals (for example, completes assigned work within time given, has no more than three instances of interruptions during the science lesson); (2) provision of progress feedback throughout the day; (3) daily communication between the teacher, caregiver, and child by sending the report home; and (4) contingent rewards provided at home for goals achieved.
What does a DRC introduce to a child’s IEP that can improve academic and social outcomes relative to an IEP without a DRC?
Research, including our own work, has suggested that IEPs for children with ADHD may under-represent social/behavioral goals and objectives. They are even less effective at providing specific, ongoing evidence-based interventions for a student with ADHD. When the DRC is linked to IEP goals and objectives on a daily basis, educators and others are better able to focus their own attention on the most important areas of need. Further, it is flexible enough to quickly add worthy goals that may not have been on the IEP.
We think that the DRC is especially important at the elementary school level, where school is a particularly formative educational experience. We emphasize positive daily goals and contingent rewards for meeting goals. And because the DRC is implemented just for the one day, students start with a clean slate at the onset of each school day.
What impact do you hope that your study of the DRC intervention will have on the field, and for students with ADHD and their IEPs in particular?
One of the sobering findings of our IES-funded study was that the comparison group, which included special education as usual, did not improve in the main outcomes assessed at the end of the year. This leads our team to believe that we need to do much more to support students with ADHD on a daily and ongoing basis, beyond simply drafting an IEP. Because most students with ADHD spend the majority of their day in general education settings, even if they have an IEP, the DRC serves as a bridge to promote continuity and consistency of behavioral support across school personnel and across school days.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your project?
It is important to note that some children with ADHD progress through school and find their footing successfully in college and/or career. Yet, we know from long-term follow-up studies that the educational outcomes for many with ADHD are poor. These outcomes do not occur suddenly, but instead are caused by the accumulation of negative school experiences. It is important to acknowledge that establishing an IEP alone is unlikely to influence these negative outcomes. It is the everyday support and intervention received by the child with ADHD in the classroom that makes the difference. Caregivers, educators, and the child must work together daily to make progress, celebrate successes, and problem solve to address any continued areas of need. The DRC is one way to do this and we are hopeful the field will continue to develop innovative ways to support individuals with ADHD using a competency-building approach.
This blog was authored by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. Jackie Buckley, NCSER program officer, manages this grant.